Gordon Clark

by | Logic | 3 comments

Dear Harvey,

Greetings. I want to first mention that my wife and I have learned much over the years by owning and reading many of your publications. We appreciate the contribution your entire family has made to Christian homeschooling. I’d like to ask a couple of questions of you, please. I remember that you used to sell some of the works of Gordon H. Clark. During that time I never really paid much attention to that section of your catalog. In recent weeks, though, out of curiosity, I have ordered several of his works through The Trinity Foundation and have been astonished with Dr. Clark’s philosophic system based on Scripture as the ultimate foundation for truth. I’m no great intellectual of any kind, however, I have always enjoyed ideas and Christian writings on philosophical topics (Edwards, Sproul, Gerstner, etc.). But, I have read nothing like Dr. Clark before. I find his writing a little difficult to comprehend sometimes, but always well worth wading through. For example, thanks to his work, What is Saving Faith?, I finally have a grasp of how to articulate the term! I know that seems like something so elementary for a Christian to do. But, there are so many ideas and opinions out there on basic Christian terms that frankly, I’ve been at a loss for years on how to properly define some of them. I’m now extremely curious about something. This man seems to have been so brilliant and always had the highest view of Scripture. Why on earth do you never hear his name mentioned anywhere except by Trivium Pursuit or The Trinity Foundation? As I mentioned earlier, I’ve read a ton of current Christian thinkers like Sproul, Gerstner, etc. and I never hear Dr. Clark ever mentioned. Never. What’s his story? Did he step on a lot of toes during his professional career and get ‘black listed’ or something? You would think that a man with a system based on propositional revelation would be appreciated more in Christian circles that hold firmly to Sola Scriptura. Anyway, I would be grateful for any light that you could shed on this issue.

My second question has to do with your booklet titled, The Sabbath Syllogism. What an eye opener! Have you had anyone within Protestant Christianity attempt to criticize or refute that work? After reading it, I thought how you should write some Bible commentaries. I’d be first in line to purchase them!

I thank you in advance for your answers to these questions. Take care.

Yours in Christ,
Jason Dailey
Florence, SC

We asked Dr. John Robbins of The Trinity Foundation to answer this question.

Dear Jason,

You raise a very good question: Why is someone of Dr. Clark’s intelligence, education, and philosophy not more widely mentioned or appreciated by popular theologians? As his literary heir and publisher, I have thought about that question for decades.

I think there is a clue to the answer in the question itself, as well as in Clark’s own biography: Clark is both a reproach and an embarrassment to nominally Christian men who wish to compromise with worldly philosophy and theology.

Clark was a first-rate mind who received a first-rate education at the University of Pennsylvania and the Sorbonne. Furthermore, God blessed him with wisdom and discernment beyond his peers. As a young man, he used his intelligence and education to make original contributions in his field, ancient philosophy, translating and commenting on some of the most difficult of ancient texts. As a result, he was slated to become Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. At that point, Clark felt the animosity of his theological enemies, for his defense of Biblical Christianity in the old Presbyterian Church, alongside J. Gresham Machen, led to his being denied the Philosophy Chairmanship at Penn. When his theological adversaries made it clear that he had no future at the University, he accepted an offer from Wheaton College in Illinois.

At Wheaton Clark taught philosophy for seven years before he again received ill treatment at the hands of the newly elected Arminian president of the college. Without telling Clark, the president of Wheaton arrogantly removed all Clark’s courses from the college catalogue. That is how Clark found out he had been fired. For some time Clark’s unanswerable defense of the doctrines of grace at Wheaton had been an embarrassment to some faculty members who could not answer his arguments. When a new president of their Arminian persuasion was elected, he lost no time in getting rid of Clark. In both cases, Penn and Wheaton, it was Clark’s intransigent defense of Biblical Christianity that led to his being denied office or his being dismissed from office. In both cases, men who were not as well-educated, or were hostile to Biblical Christianity, but who were politically better connected, succeeded in removing Clark for his views.

As a philosopher and theologian, Clark was light years ahead of anyone else at Wheaton. Because of his education and published writings, Butler University in Indianapolis offered Clark the Chairmanship of their Department of Philosophy, a position he held for 28 years, from 1945 to 1973. While at Butler Clark wrote some of his best books — A Christian Philosophy of Education, A Christian View of Men and Things, Thales to Dewey, Religion, Reason and Revelation, The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God, An Introduction to Christian Philosophy, and Three Types of Religious Philosophy, to name a few. Because Butler University was not a “Christian college,” Clark had more freedom to speak, write, and teach than he did at a so-called Evangelical college like Wheaton.

In his writings, Clark made his views clear: The Bible claims to have a monopoly on knowledge, and if that claim is true, then all other alleged sources of knowledge must be false. He used his education and intelligence to demonstrate in detail how science, empiricism, and rationalism all failed to furnish knowledge. But many in the churches and “Christian colleges” had accepted the notion that the Bible did not have such a monopoly on knowledge, and therefore Clark was an embarrassment to them. When possible, he had to be removed from office. Cornelius Van Til and the faculty of Westminster Seminary tried to remove him from pastoral office in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and failed, but they did succeed in keeping him off the Westminster Seminary faculty. When they published their books, Clark had to be ignored, for his theology and philosophy were unanswerable.

Clark is not ignored by so-called Reformed theologians and philosophers because he was stupid. He is not ignored because he was poorly educated. He is not ignored because he published little. He is ignored precisely the theologians and philosophers cannot answer his arguments defending Biblical Christianity. They prefer some accommodation with the world — they make room for science, natural law, sensation, rationalism, and irrationalism. And to the extent that they compromise the truth, Clark, who refused to compromise the Biblical claims, is an embarrassment and a reproach to them.

John Robbins
The Trinity Foundation
November 7, 2006